Art Is a Valuable Learning Experience for Young Children in Child Care

Watercolor paint set

Art activities might appear to be “just messy,” but creating art is a valuable part of a child care curriculum. Art opens up new worlds for children and gives them a variety of important experiences. Crayons, markers, paint, clay and many other art materials are the tools that can help children:

  • build strength in the arms, hands and fingers
  • practice hand and finger control, which helps improve writing skills
  • practice coordination of the hands and eyes
  • explore textures, colors and tastes
  • plan a creation and make decisions about how to create it
  • explore and express their feelings
  • expand their creativity

Art Experiences for Babies and Toddlers

Art experiences can begin as soon as babies can hold and move a crayon. Early art usually focuses on using the senses to explore, rather than creating a picture or object to keep. The process of squishing finger paint in their hands, tearing paper or scribbling with crayons is interesting and fun for most babies. As they explore, they learn what happens when they move their hands and arms, and they feel pride and joy in their creations. Babies’ and toddlers’ art creations do not usually look like real objects. They are simply enjoying the pleasure of creating and exploring the materials.

Art Experiences for Preschoolers

Preschoolers may be more interested in creating art that represents a real or imaginary object or scene. Being able to think about something they can’t see and then create it in a drawing or painting is a big accomplishment for a preschooler. But even in preschool, the process of creating is usually more important than the finished project. Don’t be surprised if a child who worked hard to paint a picture or build a clay sculpture does not want to save it.

Supporting Children’s Creative Art

Child care providers can support children’s interest in art by giving them new experiences and by helping them feel their work is valued.

  • Encourage children to explore different art media
  • Hang some sticky paper on the wall and have children stick items to it to make collages
  • Give children the chance to paint with their bare feet
  • Post the children’s creations on walls or surfaces for everyone to enjoy

These experiences let children explore real materials with their senses. Remember to display children’s artwork where they can see it easily.

To learn more about young children’s art, check out our other articles on Art in Child Care, or visit our Early Learning and School Readiness section for more information on early learning. For specific art activity ideas to use in your child care program, check out the database of Hands-on Activities for Child Care.